An understanding of the types of stretching can go a long way to helping you get the most out of your stretching program and eventually your fitness program.
What are the different types of stretching techniques and how do they work? There are so many methods of stretching used to improve flexibility. That said, there is usually a lot of confusion on which of the techniques to use and how.
To help, we will explain these stretching techniques giving examples and when most appropriate to use. No more mistakes!
Types of stretching techniques
There are several stretching methods used to develop flexibility; however, most fall under the following general categories
- Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation(PNF)
Dynamic stretching, sometimes referred to as active stretching, involves moving parts of the body then progressively increasing the reach, speed of movement or both. This type of stretching often times mimics the activity that is to be performed and prepares the muscles for that activity.
There is some controversy surrounding the effectiveness of dynamic stretching and its role in the development of flexibility. Some experts believe that the short, intermittent movements involved in this type of stretching activate the stretch reflex and cause the stretched muscle to contract. Others maintain that dynamic stretching is beneficial for quick, explosive activities like martial arts and gymnastics.
However, in general, dynamic stretching should not be used to develop static flexibility or long-standing changes in the range of motion. If used at all, dynamic stretching functions best before exercise to enhance performance. This type of stretch is often performed after a warm-up and prior to an exercise session in anticipation of a particular activity. Dynamic stretches should mimic the activity that is to be performed.
Static stretching develops static flexibility and uses slow, controlled movements through a full range of motion. This type of stretch is performed by holding a position using a part of the body, the assistance of a partner or some apparatus such as a pole eg lifting one leg up then holding it with the hand, the splits.
Slow, static stretching helps relieve muscle spasms due to exercise and is used for cooling down after a workout to reduce muscle fatigue and delayed onset of muscle soreness. (DOMS)
Ballistic stretching uses the momentum of the body to bounce in and out of a stretched position to force a stretch past the normal range of motion and then return to the starting position. Ballistic stretching incorporates bouncing or jerky movements and should not be confused with dynamic stretching.
An example of a ballistic stretch would be bouncing down to touch your toes or using the momentum of the torso to twist your body. Uncontrolled arm swings in which the arms are thrown backward and then bounce back to the starting position are also an example.
This type of stretching does not contribute to flexibility. Instead, the repeated activation of the stretch reflex causes muscles to contract which can lead to an injury. This type of stretching is not often recommended.
Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation(PNF) stretching is considered an advanced stretching technique. It is used extensively by physical therapists or when high degrees of both passive and dynamic flexibility are required for performance eg martial arts, ballet, gymnastics and kickboxing.
There are several PNF techniques but generally, PNF consists of a passive stretch, followed by an isometric contraction, which is then followed by another stretch(static or dynamic)
By combining passive stretching with isometric contractions ( a contraction in which there is no change in muscle length or joint movement) with a partner or object for resistance, PNF uses the stretch reflex and lengthening reaction to achieve a greater range of motion.
As earlier described, when a muscle is slowly stretched and held, the resulting tension triggers the lengthening reaction which prevents the stretched muscle fibers from contracting. When this stretched muscle is then isometrically contracted, the following happens-
- During an isometric contraction, some fibers will contract, but others will stretch even further. When the contraction is stopped, the contracted fibers return to their starting position while the stretched fibers retain their stretched position(due to muscle spindle accommodation) and are able to lengthen even further.
- The increased tension within the muscles generated by an isometric contraction activates the GTOs which triggers the lengthening reaction and inhibits further contraction. When the isometric contraction is stopped, the muscle is still inhibited from further contraction and able to lengthen further.
The final stretch, which follows isometric contraction takes advantage of the muscles’ ability to elongate further and allows the muscle, tendon and sense organs to adapt to greater lengths.
It is best to have a partner when using PNF techniques. A common PNF technique is referred to as the contract-relax method. This technique uses passive stretch and isometric contractions, followed by muscle relaxation and passive stretching to the new range of motion. For example, if you are stretching your hamstrings, you first passively take the stretch to the point of tightness and hold.
Then you isometrically contract the hamstrings by using this muscle to apply force against an object or a partner. Following the contraction, the muscle is allowed to relax and the muscle is then passively stretched and held. Current recommendations suggest performing this technique with one to five repetitions.
Contract-relax PNF technique
- Passive stretch for 15seconds
- Isometric contraction 7-15seconds
- Passive stretch to new end ROM for 15seconds repeat 1-5 times
It is interesting to note that many stretches can be performed statically, dynamically or using PNF depending on the goals of a stretching program.
If you made it this far, please comment below or share with a friend as it helps me to see that I am making a difference in your fitness goals. as always, have a great day!